Harare, March 8 (Reuters): Zimbabwe has seized a US-registered cargo plane carrying 64 suspected mercenaries of various nationalities and a cargo of military gear, officials said today.
The Boeing 727-100 aircraft was impounded last evening at Harare International Airport “after its owners had made a false declaration of its cargo and crew,” said home affairs (interior) minister Kembo Mohadi in a statement. “The plane was actually carrying 64 suspected mercenaries of various nationalities,” Mohadi said, adding an investigation had also found military material.
Authorities said no formal charges had been made. The US embassy in Harare said they had no details on the incident.
Mohadi said more investigations were under way to establish the identities of the passengers and the nature of their trip. There was no word on where the airplane arrived from, or whether Zimbabwe was its destination. Mohadi said a fuller statement would be released later.
Reporters were taken aboard the plane to examine the cargo, which included a rubber dinghy, military uniforms, wire cutters, armour, compasses and other military hardware, said chief police spokesman assistant commissioner Wayne Bvudzijena.
“There was a false declaration by the captain and also investigations are leading in that direction that these are possible mercenaries,” Bvudzijena said.
Footage on state television showed a white plane with the figure N4610 printed on the body. Several army personnel were shown sifting through equipment including what appeared to be army boots, communication radios and sleeping bags. US Federal Aviation Administration records show N4610 to be a 727 plane registered to Dodson Aviation Inc. based in Ottawa, Kansas. Dodson Aviation says it sold the plane in question about a week ago to an African company called Logo Ltd.
Officials have given no breakdown of nationalities of those aboard the plane. The Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corp said they were mostly whites.
President Robert Mugabe has been in a war of words with the US and Britain, which have accused him of a political crackdown following his victory in 2002 presidential elections which the opposition and Western observers said were flawed.
Mugabe accuses western powers of attempting to undermine his government in retaliation for his controversial seizure of White-owned farms for distribution to landless blacks.
Once one of the most prosperous states in southern Africa, Zimbabwe faces regular shortages of food, fuel and foreign exchange as well as soaring inflation and high unemployment.